Seen at the launch were the role players and supporters of the Champions Alumni Network.

Alumni Network for KZN’s Social Entrepreneurs Launched

The Local Economic Development Champions Alumni Network – which is a platform where KwaZulu-Natal’s social entrepreneurs can regularly network, share resources and enhance collaborations – is the latest deliverable development from the partnership between the KwaZulu-Natal Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Department (EDTEA) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Champions Alumni Network (CAN), which was recently launched in Durban, is an extension of the UKZN Graduate of School of Business and Leadership’s (GSB&L) Champions Programme which is currently in its fifth iteration with an alumni base of 57 Champions who have been exposed to a range of topics custom designed to nurture the development and scale the impact of their enterprises.

Delivering his keynote address, Mr Sihle Zikala, KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said living in a country with deep levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and many social ills means that it can never be “business as usual”, hence pride must be taken in partnerships that actively nurture social entrepreneurship as a critical tool for local and regional economic development.

‘The launch of the Champions Alumni Network is designed to facilitate interaction among alumni, public and private sectors, NGOs as well as communities who have an interest in the development of social entrepreneurs. Through it, we seek to encourage alumni to play an active role in the work and progress of the Champions Programme,’ said Zikalala.

He added that the Network must also help increase the public’s awareness of the Champions programme and recruit mentors to ensure that the initiative grows.

‘The Network must play a leading role in identifying and rewarding outstanding projects by social entrepreneurs and our Champions. The LED Champions Programme serves as a direct catalyst for economic transformation and sustainable development. The partnership we have with UKZN indicates our strong belief that (in order) for the KwaZulu-Natal province and South Africa to become competitive, we have to invest in skills development,’ said Zikalala.

Speaking on the success of the Champions Programme, its facilitator, Professor Shahida Cassim, said the Programme is based on a keen understanding of the particular challenges facing social entrepreneurs (both locally and across the globe) and modelled on an adaptation of best practice in both its curriculum and delivery that makes the programme unique.

‘The success of this programme is attributed to the partnerships that we have developed over the years and with a variety of public and private sector agencies, individuals and groups. An amazing set of people give off their time, energy and expertise towards the development of the Champions who in turn champion inclusive development in their communities. Candidates are exposed to cutting-edge thinking and innovative practices in social entrepreneurship across the major areas required for their personal development and the development and scaling of their social ventures,’ explained Cassim.

Also attesting to the programme’s success were the Alumni Champion Representatives who shared their journeys with the audience. These included Iziko Stoves co-founder, Mr Lindo Duma, whose company makes innovative cooking and braai stoves from recycled geysers, gas cylinders and paint drums, which can utilise various fuel sources and positively transforms the Durban community by employing rehabilitated substance abusers helping them to reintegrate into society.

The College of Law and Management Studies Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Brian McArthur and GSB&L’s Regional Local Economic Development Project Manager, Dr Simon Taylor, acknowledged the EDTEA as well as experts and professional support staff from RLEDI for their valuable contribution in making the partnership a success and are looking forward to the Champions Programme bearing more fruit.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo 

Photograph: Nokubonga Nomasiko Jele